Illinois Supreme Court Affirms General Rule That Suicide is an Unforeseeable Event That Breaks the Causal Chain in Both Negligent and Intentional Torts

On May 21, 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed a general rule as a matter of law with respect to suicide. Maria Turcios brought a wrongful death lawsuit based on her husband’s suicide. The lawsuit alleged that it was caused by the defendant’s intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The lawsuit was filed against DeBruler Company as the agent for Colonial Park Apartments. Her husband was Nelsyn Caceras, who was also known as Ricardo Ortiz. The plaintiff alleged that she and her family had suffered through many efforts by the defendant apartment complex to throw the family out of their apartment stating that the building was being demolished. In fact, the apartment building was torn down.

The Supreme Court reviewed de novo the trial judge’s grant of the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s wrongful death and survival claims. The Illinois Appellate Court vacated the order and remanded the case. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the dismissal order.

The only issues presented on appeal were the claims seeking damages for wrongful death and survival.

The Wrongful Death Act sets out that if a “wrongful act, neglect or default” would have entitled the deceased to a claim against a party, liability attaches to that party for the wrongful act. The wrongful act, neglect, or default must cause an injury that results in the deceased’s passing. The apartment complex argued that liability is limited under the act because suicide is an unforeseeable, independent action that breaks the causal chain.

In this appeal, the plaintiff reached out for case law authority found in California, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Indiana that this court should not limit liability in intentional torts to only foreseeable harms. The plaintiff maintained that she and her children were entitled to compensatory and punitive damages because the defendant’s intentional bad business practices and extreme conduct drove her husband to suicide.

The Supreme Court looked at another Supreme Court case, Martin v. Heinold Commodities, Inc., 163 Ill.2d 33 (1994) where the court focused on the distinction between “but for” and “legal” conclusion. The Heinold court held “but for” causation alone was insufficient to establish liability in intentional torts. The legal cause was held to apply to both negligent and intentional conduct. The legal cause is an assessment of foreseeability, evaluating whether the injury claimed is the type of injury reasonably likely to result from the defendant’s actions. The principle of foreseeability limits liability to only those who legally cause the injury complained of.

A plaintiff must prove in both negligent and intentional torts his or her injury was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s conduct in the eyes of a reasonable person. The presumption that a suicide is an unforeseeable event is rebuttable. In the Turcios case, the court found that the plaintiff did not plead facts sufficient to overcome this presumption because she chose not to demonstrate that her husband’s suicide was reasonably likely the result of the defendant’s conduct. The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that neither the wrongful death claim nor the survival claim could be maintained. The court affirmed the trial judge’s dismissal with prejudice on both counts.

Turcios v. DeBruler, 2015 IL 117962.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling wrongful death cases, medical negligence claims, nursing home abuse cases and birth trauma cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 38 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including Addison, Long Grove, Arlington Heights, Wheaton, Palos Park, Lincolnwood, Schiller Park, Elmwood Park, Hinsdale, Orland Park, Schaumburg, Itasca, Calumet City, Chicago Heights, South Barrington and Tinley Park, Ill.

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